Fayetteville School Board unanimously approves raises for certified, classified employees

Certified, classified employees getting raises

John L Colbert (center), superintendent of Fayetteville Public Schools, shares a laugh Thursday, May 25, 2023, with Faye Jones (right), a retired longtime educator, and Jones daughter, Ashley Jennings, during a retirement reception for Colbert at Fayetteville High School. Colbert retires after 47 years of service in public education. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The School Board unanimously approved new salary schedules for the district's certified and classified employees during Thursday night's regular monthly meeting at the Ray Adams Leadership Center.

The raises for certified employees (teachers) are required by the LEARNS Act, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' signature legislation that overhauled the state's education system and increased the state's minimum teacher salary to $50,000.

Under the LEARNS Act, each certified employee must see an increase of at least $2,000 next year, Finance Director Mickey McFetridge said when he presented the proposals to the board at its April meeting.

The schedule gives the district time to gauge the effect the LEARNS Act has on Fayetteville's budget, McFetridge said. To meet the LEARNS Act requirement, the district is adding $2,000 to every cell on the certified salary schedule, McFetridge said. All the steps remain intact under this plan, McFetridge said. Teachers with step raises coming will get them and the $2,000 increase, he added. On average, it's about a 3.5% increase on the district's scale, McFetridge said.

Fayetteville's certified salary schedule for the 2023-24 school year starts at $52,000 for a teacher with a bachelor of science degree and no experience, according to information provided by the district. That teacher receives $52,646 after one year on the job and $53,359 after two years, with similar increases continuing yearly and topping out at $63,240 after 18 steps, according to the district.

Salaries are higher based on years of experience and degrees attained, with a teacher with a doctorate having a maximum salary of $82,894 after 30 steps, according to the district's numbers.

The district is also raising salaries for its classified employees, including custodians, bus drivers, food-service workers and a wide variety of support staff members.

Every classified cell will receive an increase of at least 25 cents, McFetridge said last month. Some cells will get closer to 80 cents to make the entry-level pay more appealing, McFetridge said. Aside from competing with other school districts for employees, there's growing competition from industries themselves, he said, whether it's food service, hospitality or other professions.

The board later heard from Amy Jefferson, director of child nutrition, about proposed price hikes for school meals. One proposal calls for a 10-cent increase in student breakfast and lunch prices and in adult breakfast prices. Another seeks a 25-cent increase for adult lunch prices, according to information from the district.

Here's a look at what the prices would be after the proposed increases, based on information provided by the district:


$2.25 breakfast, kindergarten-grade 12

$3.25 lunch, kindergarten-grade 4

$3.45 lunch, grades 5-12


$2.75, breakfast

$4.45, lunch

The increases will pay for higher food and supply costs, wage raises for the child nutrition staff, rehiring efforts, and improvements to equipment and menus, according to district information.

The board will vote on the proposals at next month's meeting.

In other business:

The board unanimously approved Julie Williams to be the deputy superintendent for incoming Superintendent John Mulford. Williams, currently the superintendent at Alton R-IV Public School District in Alton, Mo., said she's been in public education for 31 years. Williams served as Mulford's deputy superintendent in West Plains, Mo., she said, and they worked together there for 13 years.

"Fayetteville has one of the strongest reputations in education," Williams said. "I feel like I'm a good fit."

Mulford and Williams both begin July 1.

Mulford is succeeding John L Colbert, the district's superintendent since 2018. Colbert, 68, is retiring this summer after a 47-year career with the district.

The board honored Vandergriff Elementary School kindergarten teacher Thelma Thomason, who is retiring after a record 61-year career with Fayetteville Public Schools. Her first year was the 1961-62 school year, according to information from the district.

The board voted unanimously to keep the current leadership structure of President Nika Waitsman, Vice President Megan Tullock and Secretary Tim Hudson. This vote is required at the first regular meeting following the certification of an annual school election, according to information from the district.


Before Thursdays School Board meeting, Superintendent John L Colbert was honored during a festive gathering at the Susan Heil Courtyard on the Fayetteville High School campus.

Amid hugs, smiles, laughter and music, speakers paid tribute to Colbert, who is retiring after a 47-year career.

Among those praising Colbert was Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, who said the two had been friends for 35 years.

"Dont you just love this city?" Jordan said as the audience cheered. "Dont you just love John L?"

Jordan presented a proclamation declaring it Dr. John L Colbert Day in the city.

Steve Clark, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, described Colbert as a "difference-maker."

Clark said a difference-maker is "someone who does it just because it will make a difference in the life of someone else. This is a man whos made a difference every day of his life."

State Sen. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, brought a citation from the state Senate honoring Colbert and noted the "joy with which you do it all."

When Colbert stepped to the microphone, he received a standing ovation.

"Public education is the backbone, the foundation of this great nation," Colbert said. "We should never forget that."

Colbert thanked his family, friends, mentors and all district employees, past and present. He also talked about working with the School Board during the covid-19 pandemic.

"We did it! Seven board members were on the same page as their superintendent," Colbert said.

Colbert said hes still preaching that teaching is about "doing what is best for kids."